After Discover changed its credit monitoring vendor, I started looking for a replacement credit monitoring service. Since the three national credit bureaus all offer credit monitoring services, I thought that I'd start there. First up: Experian.
I'd heard that Experian’s service is called "Triple Alert,", but I wasn't certain. So I did a Google search to find the site. For me, one way to judge a product or service is determine how easy it is to find that service on the Internet. A well organized service (or company) makes it easy for consumers to find them via search engines like Google. The site should appear high up on the first results page and its Web site address (e.g., URL) should include the product or service name. I entered "Experian Triple Alert” in Google.com and received the following results page:
The results page included several Experian links in the left column:
None of the links mentioned "triple alert," but several competitors' links mentioned "triple alert." In the right column, one "Experian Triple Alert" link seemed to go to a site (e.g., Moving-Links.com/FreeReport) that wasn't an Experian site. So, I didn't click on that link. The second "Experian Tiple Alert" link in the right column had a question mark next to it, which my anti-virus software indicated was a risky or untested site to visit. So, I definitely wasn't going to click on that link.
The "Experian VA Data Breach" link didn't seem relevant. I was hoping that the results page would include something easily identifiable like "www.triplealert.com" or "www.experian.com/triple alert." My first impression was that Experian wasn't going to make my experience with their brand easy. I clicked on the "www.experiandirect.com" link and see if it would take me where I wanted to go. It brought me to:
The page include a Triple Alert so I felt better; that I’d had arrived at the right site. I thought that the page would present only the Triple Alert service from Experian. Instead, the page was cluttered with several Experian service options. The page presented the Triple Alert service for $4.95 per month, a single credit report plus credit score option for $15, a three credit report plus my credit score option for $24.95, and an online credit report option for $10. Are all of these options Triple Alert services, or only the first option?
The options hyping “online credit report in seconds” and “get your credit report and credit score instantly” seemed silly. Most services on the internet are fast and instant. That's why consumers use the Internet. The copy didn't explain if or why Experian's options are faster than others. Plus, I can see the page thoroughly confusing users who are unfamiliar with credit bureaus and the credit report/score process. The site lacks adviser mechanisms to guide unfamiliar consumers to the appropriate option.
For my needs, I seek a comprehensive credit monitoring service... far more than just a one-time peek at my credit score or my Experian credit report. I need access to the full text of my credit reports from all three national credit bureaus. I also need e-mail or text messaging alerts about the status or changes to my credit reports, credit resolution support and insurance, criminal fraud monitoring, identity fraud assistance when traveling outside the USA, my credit score, credit assistance tools, access to phone support, and easy options to add a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze. The copy on this page did not address all or most of these needs. The closest option seemed to be the Triple Alert option. For my needs, I want both monthly e-mail alerts and customizeable e-mail and text messaging alerts, options many banks and credit card issuers already provide. Why? The sooner you learn about fraudulent charges, the less money you'll lose.
I needed to understand exactly what Triple Alert will and won’t do with its credit resolution services. (Thanks to IBM’s data breach, my personal data has already been exposed.) I selected the “View sample alert” link to learn more about the basic credit reporting features. The sample alert page looked very similar to what I currently receive via my Discover credit monitoring service.
The feature mentioned on the home page: "e-mail alerts to key changes in any of my 3 credit reports” is nice, but the page copy didn't explain how the alerts work: how often, any customization options, and e-mail or text messaging options. Regarding credit monitoring services, I do not look for the cheapest service. I look for the service with the most value and effectiveness. Value is what I get for the monthly fee. Effectiveness includes addressing my needs: protection, alerts/warnings features, customization features, resolution services, adequate insurance and guarantee coverages, support, and reliability.
Next, I clicked on the “10,000 Triple Alert Guarantee” link to learn more about that feature. I expected the guarantee page to explain simply the guarantee and its benefits. Instead, the page presented a word-dense legal agreement in hard-to-read lawyer-speak. I was getting the distinct impression that Experian is a difficult brand to do business with. The guarantee page stated:
“If you (hereinafter "you") become a victim of Identity Theft (as defined below) while enrolled in and using the Triple Alert product, ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. (hereinafter "we", "our" or "us") will reimburse you for certain Identity Theft Expenses (as described in Section 3, below) up to $10,000, subject to the terms and conditions of this Guarantee. "Identity Theft" means that your name, address, Social Security number, bank, or credit card account number, or other personally identifying information was used without your knowledge or approval to commit fraud or other crimes. The maximum amount that we will pay you is $10,000 for Identity Theft Expenses as a direct result of an Identity Theft.”
Why does the copy mention ConsumerInfo.com? I didn't ask for that site. Did I arrive at the wrong site? What is ConsumerInfo.com? Is it a better credit monitoring service? This was confusing and it caused more questions than it answered. Further down the page, it included a description of the types of expenses are covered:
“(a) Stolen Funds: Funds directly stolen from you that are related to any account that is included on your Experian credit report…”
“(b) Legal Expenses: Reasonable and necessary attorney fees or court costs associated with defending any suit brought against you by merchants, financial institutions or other credit grantors or their collection agencies, or the removal of any criminal or civil judgment wrongly entered against you.”
"(c) Lost Wages: Actual United States wages or salary you lose as a direct result of time off work taken by you to report an Identity Theft;”
“(d) Miscellaneous: Loan applications fees, long distance telephone costs, mailing and postage costs, costs of having affidavits or other documents notarized; and”
"(e) Private Investigators: Any fees or costs associated with the use of any investigative agencies or private investigators. You must receive our advanced written consent to your choice of private investigators, and we reserve the right to select such private investigators.”
Note: the Triple Alert site pages do not mention outsourcing and whether Experian offshore outsources any of its operations. I know from prior research that all three national credit bureaus announced offshore outsourcing in 2003. To stay competitive and to manage costs, credit bureaus currently offshore outsource portions of their credit reporting operations, and likely do the same for their credit monitoring services. I would expect a credit bureau like Experian to mention its offshore outsourcing arrangements so consumers can make an informed purchase.
To summarize in plain English: if a bank account is on my Experian credit report and that account has money stolen from it, I would get reimbursed up to $10,000 less reimbursements for other valid expenses. If that bank account wasn't on my Experian credit report, then it isn't covered. That doesn't seem right.
The $10,000 of insurance didn't seem like much. It's pretty easy to have a $5,000 to $7,000 limit on one credit card, and much more in a savings account and mortgage. Attorney fees could easily eat up a large portion of the $10,000 guarantee.
Let’s assume for the moment that the $10,000 guarantee amount is enough coverage. There’s more to consider. The reimbursements are subject to more conditions. To get reimbursed, a consumer must also meet all of the following items:
- Review your credit reports in a timely manner and report fraudulent items
- File a police report within 10 days after first learning of identity theft or fraud (or after Experian notification)
- Contact Experian’s Fraud Resolution Department within 10 days after first learning of identity theft or fraud (or after Experian notification)
- Place a Fraud Alert with all 3 credit bureaus within 10 days after first learning of identity theft or fraud (or after Experian notification)
- Work with Experian’s Fraud Resolution Department to pursue any and all sources of reimbursement and submit any receipts and documentation. I must assign Experian rights (Power of Attorney?) to work on my behalf for reimbursements. And I must give back to Experian any reimbursements if I receive funds from another source (e.g., bank, credit card issuers, other insurance, etc.)
- Honestly inform Experian or pay back any reimbursements to them if they find that I misrepresented something
Obviously, any consumer uncomfortable with these 6 conditions should not sign an agreement with Experian Triple Alert. More importantly, $10,000 guarantee doesn’t provide much coverage. It seems easy to exceed that amount. Think of it this way: when you insure your home, you insure all of it, not part of it. The same applies to credit monitoring insurance or guarantees. If an identity thief steals all of my bank and financial accounts, I want insurance that covers everything. Not part of it. Moreover, residents of New York can't get coverage with Experian Triple Alert.
The National Advertising Initiative (NAI) has developed an opt-out tool with the express purpose of allowing consumers to "opt-out" of the targeted advertising delivered by its member networks. You can visit the NAI opt-out page and opt-out of this cookie tracking. Please visit: www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp for more information."
"Partner sharing Opt-out Options: If a business partner refers you to our Site, you may choose not to have your information shared with that partner by opting-out directly on your order form."
Consumers should be aware of this, since the site (and any Triple Alert partners) monitor customers' Internet use and serve up (supposedly) targeted, relevant ads.
So, the Experian Triple Alert service didn't look like a good deal to me. It looked like a poor value. It wasn't particularly easy to find. It doesn’t meet all or even most of my needs. The web site was skimpy on explaining important details and benefits. When the site provided explanations, it was often difficult to read, hard to find, and confusing. And, the service doesn't offer customizable e-mail/text messaging alerts to warn me as soon as possible of possible fraud. That's a state-of-the-art feature many banks and credit card issuers already provide their customers. Frankly, if the site pitching Experian Triple Alert to potential customers is this bad, then the actual service for customers probably is worse.
The Experian Triple Alert site did not prove to me any of the benefits it claimed, nor that Experian Triple Alert is a quality service worth signing up for. The site didn't convince me that it is better than other credit monitoring services available. The site seemed to pitch weak claims while trying to lure uninformed consumers.
All of this left me with the impression that Experian is a difficult brand to do business with. If I signed up for Experian Triple Alert, it would probably be a frustrating experience. No thanks. I prefer to look elsewhere for a credit monitoring service.
If you use the Experian Triple Alert service, please share your experiences. Why did you sign up? What works well? What works poorly? How well do the alerts, resolution, and reimbursement services help?